Crosspointe and Cross-purposes
If one is reading fantasy, it would probably help if one didn’t read forum threads on fantasy cliches at the same time*. It sort of spoils the fun.
In Diana Pharaoh Francis‘ The Cipher**, we meet Lucy Trenton, a member of the royal Rampling family who works as a customs official at a shipping port in Crosspointe. In her capacity as a supervisor, she has free range to the warehouses. On one of her rounds, she senses majick coming from some of the cargo. And in her carelessness, she finds herself attached to a dangerous cipher–a cursed object created by an ancient mage with a twisted sense of humor. But before she can even think about removing the cipher (which as far as she knows, is only possible if she’s dead), a friend introduces her to Marten Thorpe–a ship captain, persistent suitor, and compulsive gambler. Although she wants nothing to do with Thorpe, it is his initial shifty motives that embroil her in deadly political waters–both figuratively and literally.
Many fantasy novels contain the classic good versus evil theme. I personally find this overdone although I’m aware that in the hands of a particularly skilled and imaginative writer, this well used conflict can have fresh life. The heroes in The Cipher have believable flaws–they aren’t selfless and free from vice (although I will have to say that the relationship between Lucy and Marten doesn’t ring quite true to me), but the villains are flawless in their evilness. Surely the villain and his allies the Jutras have some thought that their actions are justified, even if it’s terribly wrong. They can’t all be black majick wielding, blood-thirsty, government-overthrowing barbarians. With that, I also find it a little too convenient that the heroine got transformed into this uber-mage. In the end, everything got fixed rather quickly–anticlimactic and not very exciting.
But all of that aside, I did enjoy the author’s writing style and her world building. The concept of sylveth was particularly interesting. It’s a type of sinister magic that courses through the sea. The inhabitants of Crosspointe must somehow work it so that it becomes usable–and thus a valuable commodity to be exported–but it is also treacherous. If free sylveth comes in contact with flesh, animal or human, it becomes deadly sylveth spawn that sounds like it came straight from a Lovecraftian tale.
I’m sure people who love fantasy political intrigue would like this book. I would have liked more tentacles though.